I will never forget the November we prayed for Joan Brody’s apple pie. In a classic mix-up, the submission of her recipe for a parish cookbook was mistakenly placed in a collection of index cards with the names of those who had died. The latter were then taken and placed under the altar cloth as a way to remember them each time we gathered for Mass. When the month ended, the pastor discovered the recipe. He duly noted how all things can be offered in prayer!
For centuries, November has been a time to remember the dead. Dating back to the days of the ancient Celts, the month coincided with the close of the autumn harvest. As the light in the Northern Hemisphere waned and the last of the crops died, giving way to the death of winter’s grip, it was an apropos time to also recall loved ones who had passed from this world into the next. Throughout Latin America, the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, has been marked for centuries with cemetery rituals, homemade altars and shrines, and public events.
Our local newspaper has been running its customary number of Halloween-related articles. There are the standard profiles of haunted houses along with the “spiritualists” who claim to see the ghosts in residence. Another article included some disturbing photos of people dressed as zombies. The make-up showing gory murder wounds and signs of bodily deterioration were gruesome, to say the least. The current rash of interest in the walking dead has been ratcheted up a degree by films and television shows that try to outdo each other on the scare-o-meter.
What a contrast to the tradition of the Church. On All Saints Day (November 1st), we honor those who inspire us with their generous and faith-filled lives. On All Souls Day (November 2nd), we hold in prayer all of those who have died, particularly our loved ones. There is a mixture of both celebration and grief embedded in these two days. It is a time to recall not only our losses, but also the gifts we have received from those who lived and died before us.
Zombies may be good for entertainment and goose bump experiences, but are hardly comforting for those dealing with the complex process of grief. There is great comfort in naming those who have died and in bringing them to the Table of the Lord where we worship together. Our ancestors knew that denying death was not only unrealistic, but it was also not human. Our faith as Christians helps us recognize death as a passage rather than an ending. In this we find comfort and hope, consolation and celebration.